When we solved the system in which a particle is confined to an infinite box (that is, an infinite square well), we saw that quantum numbers arose naturally through the enforcement of continuity conditions (that the wavefunction ψ must go to zero at x=0 and x=L). Quantization of energy and position (namely, nodes at which the particle cannot exist) are directly to these quantum numbers, whose values are n=1, 2, ..., ∞, representing an infinite number of energy levels.
A particle in a finite box, however, can tunnel into the walls, in the same fashion that we saw earlier with the two barrier problems. Solving this system is not difficult but, unfortunately, has no analytical solution and must be solved either numerically or, as was done in class, graphically. On the other hand, the wavefunctions are essentially just those from the infinite box but are allowed to bleed into the wall (with the caveat that higher energy states tunnel further than the lower energy states). To summarize the major differences between the particle in a finite box and one in an infinite box:
- only a finite number of energy levels exist [called bound states]
- tunneling into the barrier is possible
- higher energy states are less tightly bound than lower states
- a particle given enough energy can break free [in other words, unbound]
One important distinction from the particle in a box result is that the peaks in the wavefunction are not uniform. For example, for v=2 and larger, it is clear that outside peaks (representing larger displacement from x=0) have higher probability than inside peaks. As n gets large, we see another clear example of the correspondence principle.